President Trump has signed an executive order to start the process of reversing the Obama administration’s climate-change policies and regulations. Terminating the Clean Power Plan has been a Trump goal since his campaign, but completing it will require months of review because in its present form, the plan is the result of an extended process of public input. It can’t be killed by executive fiat.
Environmental advocates and other supporters of President Obama’s climate programs fear, and the Trump administration hopes, that the end of the CPP will relieve the regulatory pressure on the power-generation sector to abandon fossil fuels. Environmentalists fear that outcome because it could lead to increased use of fossil fuels for power plants with consequent increases in greenhouse-gas emissions driving climate change. The Trump administration wants to restore fossil-fuel use to save jobs in the petroleum and coal industries and to preempt further investment in power generation with solar and wind energy, which it views as small-bore, unproved technology, costly and exotic.
This proves only that President Trump and his administration have not been paying attention to what is happening outside the Washington bubble. States and corporations (yes, for-profit corporations) are pursuing programs that will counter climate change while benefiting citizens and returning a profit. These corporations see action to counter climate change as a profit center, not a drain on the economy. And the new administration had better watch its back; since the start of the 115th Congress, the number of Republicans in the House Climate Solutions Caucus has risen from six to 14. The members are speaking science to power on behalf of their climate-challenged districts.
Business leaders are, of course, somewhat motivated by ideology, but a primary influence in their business decisions is how they will affect the company’s bottom line. So it’s impressive that Moody’s is reporting that companies are driving demand for U.S. clean energy. “Contracts to sell electricity directly to corporate users are among the key demand drivers for wind and solar power,” the news story says. “Corporations agreed to buy nearly 3.7 gigawatts of power generated by clean-energy projects in 2015, and another 2.5 gigawatts last year, almost all from wind and solar, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.” These companies were buying the most cost-effective power on offer. If a power plant fueled by natural gas could have beat the price, they would have bought that power instead.
If action to halt climate change is a costly boondoggle, as climate-change deniers insist, why are corporations, which are motivated by profit, acting while the government drags its feet?
Not all governments are dragging their feet; some are recognizing the economic benefits they reap from robust and growing renewable-energy resources. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic member states, is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, founded in 2009. Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., all have strong and stable solar renewable-energy credit markets; South Carolina, New York and Wisconsin offer sizeable utility rebates for solar-power installations; and 30 cities are shopping for $10 billion of electric vehicles to demonstrate demand to the auto industry, even without the pressure of a federal mandate.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that four Midwest governors are embracing clean energy. Bruce Rauner (R), Illinois governor, for example, has signed bipartisan legislation to double his state’s energy efficiency portfolio and spur some $15 billion of investment in new solar and wind projects. He justifies his action on the ground of “good-paying jobs” (are you listening, President Trump?) and maintaining energy diversity. Also in the name of energy diversity, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) vetoed pro-fossil-fuel legislation that would have blocked investments in clean energy. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) both have advanced clean energy in their states too. They are not driven by onerous, “job-killing regulations” or federal mandates, but by the benefits renewable resources bring to their constituents.
Even Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who has led his state to become a living laboratory for small-government, conservative policies, has defended renewable energy to President Trump. In his capacity as vice chair of the bipartisan Governors’ Wind and Solar Energy Coalition, he and coalition Chair Gina M. Raimondo (D) sent a letter on Feb. 13, 2017, to the President detailing the benefits renewable-energy resources bring to low-income rural areas, including electric power, land-use fees and jobs. No “job-killing regulations” here.
Trump’s puzzling, single-minded fixation on restoring the coal industry threatens to damage other parts of the country’s diverse energy ecosystem. He appears to be unaware that the jobs lost by coal miners have been replaced by jobs in the shale-oil patch and the wind and solar farms of the Plains states and, indeed, in the entire rest of the country. America now gets 5% of its electricity from renewable resources. The fossil-fuel industry can’t be restored by rolling back the Clean Power Plan or other clean-energy programs. That train has left the station. Trump would do better to catch it and try to direct where it goes.
Tom Armistead is the consulting editor of ENR Energy. After a 23-year career in construction, he served 12 years as ENR’s editor, first for power and industrial news and subsequently for energy news.